Monthly Archives: January 2013

Today’s Wine-in-Groceries Bill Report

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Supporters of a perennial legislative proposal to allow supermarkets and convenience stores to sell wine expressed confidence Thursday that their latest effort could succeed where previous ones failed.
But the bill is meeting its usual stiff resistance from liquor store owners and wholesalers, who want to keep the current system that restricts sales of any alcohol strong than 5 percent to liquor stores.
State Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro and fellow Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol said in a press conference that their bill would put the decision before the voters in cities and counties that currently allow liquor sales.
“Tennesseans deserve the opportunity to vote on this issue,” Ketron said. “If you’re not buying wine where you shop for food, you don’t have to vote for it.
“But we think a lot of Tennesseans will vote for it,” he said.
Opponents argue the change would unfairly harm existing small businesses and make higher-alcohol drinks more widely available to minors
“These out-of-state chains like Walmart and Kroger are determined to get more profit out of the state of Tennessee, no matter what the cost,” Nashville liquor store owner Chip Christianson, an officer in the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association , said in a written statement.
“Legislators must realize what these corporations are trying to do and stop them in their tracks,” he said.
Lundberg said supporters have tried to negotiate with liquor store owners.
“We’ve gone to the industry and said, ‘Let’s talk, and meet about what we can do together,'” Lundberg said. “And frankly, they haven’t wanted to sit at that table.”
Ketron dismissed claims that minors would have easier access to alcohol. He noted that an existing law requiring grocery and convenience store clerks to check IDs for all beer sales would also apply to wine. He proposed changing state law to include liquor stores under the universal carding law.
“It’s time that we treat every alcohol sale the same, regardless of where it’s sold,” he said.
The bill would prevent grocery and convenience stores from selling wine stronger than 18 percent, a move that sponsors said is meant to prevent them from stocking fortified wines. The measure would not authorize grocery stores to sell beer stronger than 5 percent by weight.
“The beer wholesalers don’t support the legislation,” said Rich Foge, the president of the Tennessee Malt Beverage Association. “But we think that if you’re going to put wine in grocery stores up to 18 percent alcohol, then absolutely a high-gravity beer should be allowed to be sold there, side-by-side with other products.”
Ketron said he expects the Senate to evaluate the bill before it is brought up by House committees. The measure has the support of the Republican leaders in both chambers of the General Assembly.
“This really is a reasonable piece of legislation that will be good public policy for Tennessee,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville said he understands the concerns of liquor store owners, but he wants them to take a more serious approach to finding a compromise.
“I’d like to think that we can get this bill out of committee and get it moving, and we’ll have some discussion and figure out where the happy median is,” Ramsey said.

Note: News release on filing of the bill is below.

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Larry Crim Files as Democratic U.S. Senate Candidate

News release from Larry Crim campaign:
According to a Federal Election Commission Statement of Candidacy filed with the Secretary of the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C., Larry Crim of Nashville, Tennessee has officially announced his Democratic candidacy for United States Senate (TN) in 2014.
Records on file with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Public Records Office of the Secretary of the U.S. Senate reflect that Crim is the only Democratic Party candidate from Tennessee to file a FEC Statement of Candidacy for U.S. Senate in 2014 at this time.
Mr. Crim will seek the Democratic party’s nomination in August 2014. If Crim wins the Democratic primary, he will face the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in the November 2014 general election. The current republican incumbent in the U.S. Senate is Lamar Alexander, whose term is up in 2014. Alexander has announced he will run again.

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TN Gets $2.3M in Lender Processing Settlement

News release from attorney general’s office:
Attorney General Bob Cooper today announced that Tennessee and 45 other Attorneys General have reached a $120 million multistate agreement with a national loan default servicing company and its subsidiaries.
Tennessee will receive approximately $2.3 million as a result of its complaint and agreed final judgment with Lender Processing Services, Inc. and its subsidiaries, LPS Default Solutions and DocX, which are being filed today in Davidson County Circuit Court.
The agreement resolves allegations that LPS, which primarily provides technological support to banks and mortgage loan servicers, was “robo-signing” documents and engaging in other improper conduct related to mortgage loan default servicing. The judgment requires LPS and its subsidiaries to reform its business practices and, if necessary, to correct documents it executed to assist the homeowner.

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Bill Would Let Legislators Choose U.S. Senate Nominees

A bill proposed by East Tennessee Republicans calls for U.S. Senate candidates to be nominated by the Legislature’s partisan caucuses rather than in contested primary elections.
Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, proposes that the new system take effect on Nov. 30, 2014. That effectively “grandfathers in” incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s re-election under the present system “because he’s doing such a good job,” said Niceley.
The new system would be valid under the U.S. Constitution, which courts have held grants wide latitude to states in deciding how political parties nominate candidates for the U.S. Senate, Niceley said.
He noted that Utah does not have contested primaries, instead having each party pick a nominee at a party caucus meeting.
Until 1913, senators were directly chosen by state legislators. In that year, the 17th amendment to the U.S. Constitution changed that system to provide for popular election. But the amendment is silent on how candidates are nominated for the election.
“We’ve tried it this way (contested primaries) for 100 years,” said Niceley. “It’s time to try something different.”
Under the bill (SB471), the House and Senate Republican Caucuses would jointly choose the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate at an open meeting while the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses would choose the Democratic nominee.
Such a system would avoid the huge fundraising and spending in primary elections and open the door for more qualified candidates with fewer financial resources to seek the nomination, Niceley said.
In last year’s Democratic U.S. Senate primary, the party was “embarrassed” by the nomination of Mark Clayton, Nicely said, and the new system would avoid such situations. Clayton, who was officially disavowed by the state Democratic Party for what party officials called “extremist views, got about 30 percent of the vote in losing to Republican Sen. Bob Corker.
Niceley said he has discussed the proposal with legislative leaders and believes the idea has considerable support. He said Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, will sponsor the bill in the House.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, said he had discussed the proposal with Niceley and thought it “an interesting idea,” though he would defer to former Sen. Roy Herron, recently elected chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party. Herron said letting legislators pick Senate nominees would “turn back the clock a century or two.”
“I have great respect for Sen. Niceley, but Democrats believe in democracy and trust the people over the politicians,” Herron said. “I’m thankful to represent the Democratic party, not the dinosaur party.”
State Republican Chairman Chris Devaney, on the other hand, said this in an email after a conversation with Niceley Wednesday:
“You can always can count on Sen. Nicely to come up with innovative proposals conservatives can be proud of. This is another step in that direction and I certainly think it is an interesting idea.”
Jim Jefferies, spokesman for Alexander said the senator hasn’t seen the bill and has no comment at this time, though “I know he will appreciate Mr. Niceley’s compliment” about Alexander doing a “good job.”
“Sen. Corker hasn’t seen the bill and isn’t in the habit of weighing in on state legislation,” said Laura Herzog, spokeswoman for Corker.

Campfield Bill: Don’t Teach Gay, Do Tell Parents

Sen. Stacey Campfield’s new version of legislation known as “don’t say gay” in past years allows counseling of students on homosexuality, but calls for notification of a youth’s parents when counseling occurs.
Campfield, R-Knoxville, has entitled the new bill, SB234, “Classroom Protection Act.” It generally prohibits in grades kindergarten through eight “classroom instruction, course materials or other informational resources that are inconsistent with natural human reproduction.”
Critics of similar past legislation have complained that teachers could be prohibited from answering questions or counseling troubled students if the topic involves homosexuality. The new bill explicitly excludes a teacher “answering in good faith” any questions related to the subject being taught and says school nurses, counselors, principals and assistant principals can counsel students.
But it also says, “Parents or legal guardians of students who receive such counseling shall be notified as soon as practicable that such counseling has occurred.” The provision has been widely criticized on several blogs as potentially creating situation that could discourage troubled students from seeking counseling when dealing with sexual abuse, bullying or even contemplation of suicide.
Campfield said, however, “it’s ridiculous to say we should shield parents from that information” about homosexual activity, which can be dangerous because of AIDs and sexually-transmitted disease.
“I think it’s important that, if they’re doing something that’s potentially dangerous or life-threatening, that you should get parents involved,” he said.
The Senate approved an earlier version of “don’t say gay” in 2011, but the bill later died in the House and never became law. Campfield said the new version is “completely different” and “gets rid of some of the old perceptions” about the legislation.

Health Comish: Meningitis Episode Preventable

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state is taking steps to make sure mistakes made at a Massachusetts-based compounding pharmacy blamed for a fatal meningitis outbreak don’t occur at similar centers in Tennessee, the state’s health commissioner said Wednesday.
John Dreyzehner told members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that what happened at the New England Compounding Center was preventable.
The outbreak, discovered in Tennessee in September, is linked to steroid injections from the center. Compounding pharmacies custom-mix medications in doses or in forms that generally aren’t commercially available.
“What happened in Massachusetts was tragic, but totally preventable,” Dreyzehner said.
In Tennessee, the commissioner said the number of people sickened by the outbreak is 147 with 14 deaths. Nationwide, 693 people have gotten sick and 45 people have been killed.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Fungal meningitis is not contagious.
Dreyzehner said a task force formed by the state Board of Pharmacy has been discussing preventive measures, such as more regulation, and is expected to make recommendations at a hearing on Thursday.
He acknowledged that compounding pharmacy regulation is complex, but essential.
“We need to consider how to do these things more safely to make sure they don’t happen again,” he said.
Even though the fungal meningitis outbreak was discovered in Tennessee in September, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials say the earliest deaths tied to it date to July.
Health officials say as many as 14,000 people received the steroid shots, mostly for back pain. In early October, the company issued a nationwide recall of the steroid and ceased operations. Later that month, Massachusetts moved to permanently revoke the company’s pharmacy license after inspectors found unsterile conditions at its Framingham facilities.
State officials charge the company with violating its state license, which permitted the company to make drugs only for individual patients based on specific prescriptions. Instead, state officials say, the company made large batches of drugs for broad distribution.
Last month, a bankruptcy court judge froze the assets of the four owners of the company, clearing the way for creditors to determine what’s left of the millions the owners received from the firm.

Environmentalists Oppose UT Fracking Plans

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Environmental groups are asking a committee of the State Building Commission to prevent use of a gas drilling technique at a forested tract owned by the University of Tennessee.
According to the Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/VW0TqC ), the Southern Environmental Law Center asked, on behalf of a half-dozen environmental groups, that fracture drilling, or fracking, not be allowed in the Cumberland Research Forest.
A letter to the commission’s executive subcommittee states UT is dragging its feet on public records requests and asks the panel to defer action on drilling until the public is better informed of university intentions.
“Now UT has started behaving like an oil and gas company, and saying, ‘We’re just going to do what we want,'” said Renee Hoyos, director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network, one of the groups represented in SELC’s letter sent to subcommittee members. “I don’t think UT is doing its due diligence by acting this way. It’s a university and it needs to hold itself to a higher standard.”
UT is asking to solicit bids to lease part of the 8,000-acre tract in Morgan and Scott counties. The university said it would use revenue from leases to fund studies into the environmental impact of fracking.
The drilling technique is used to extract oil and gas from shale. A well is drilled vertically and then horizontally, and water and chemicals can then be pumped into the well to fracture the rock and free the minerals. Because the shale lies at shallower depths in Tennessee than elsewhere, drillers often use nitrogen rather than water to extract the gas.
The committee meets Thursday, and UT has requested a waiver of appraisals to assess the value of the land and its mineral deposits.
In a prepared statement, UT officials said they delivered the requested public records last week but that it took seven weeks to prepare them. Officials noted the scope of the request, inclement weather and holiday university closings.

Blackburn Wants to Shoot Skeet With Obama

After President Barack Obama said in an interview published last weekend that he and his guests “do skeet shooting all the time” at the presidential retreat, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn has challenged him to a contest.
From the Tennessean:
“I think he should invite me to Camp David, and I’ll go skeet shooting with him,” the Brentwood Republican said on CNN. “And I bet I’ll beat him.”
Through a spokesman, Blackburn told The Tennessean she’s “not bad for a girl” at shooting skeet. She last went to a gun range nearly a year ago, but she used to co-host an annual “women’s skeet shoot-off” at a range in Maryland, spokesman Mike Reynard said.
On CNN, Blackburn said she doesn’t believe Obama’s “all the time” claim, since there are no photos of the recently re-inaugurated chief executive firing a gun and he hadn’t mentioned the hobby previously.
“Why have we not seen photos?” she said. “Why has he not referenced it at any point in time as we have had this gun debate that is ongoing? You would have thought it would have been a point of reference.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday — before Blackburn did her best to ignite “Skeetgate” — he didn’t know how often Obama goes out on the gun range. He said he wasn’t aware of photos of the world’s most powerful man pulling the trigger.
“When he goes to Camp David, he goes to spend time with his family and friends and relax — not to produce photographs,” Carney said archly.
Joanna Rosholm, a White House spokeswoman, said Tuesday that Obama had not responded to Blackburn’s challenge.

Study: TN Taxes Hardest on Middle and Low-income Families

News release from Tennesseans for Fair Taxation:
Nashville, Tennessee – Like most state tax systems, Tennessee takes a much larger share from middle- and low-income families than from wealthy families, according to the fourth edition of Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States, released today by the Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and Tennesseans for Fair Taxation (TFT).
Combining all of the state and local income, property, sales and excise taxes Tennessee residents pay, the average overall effective tax rates by income group are 11.2 percent for the bottom 20 percent, 8.8 percent for the middle 20 percent and 2.8 percent for the top one percent. Nationally, those figures are 11.1 percent for the bottom 20 percent, 9.4 percent for the middle 20 percent and 5.6 percent for the top one percent. The full report is online at www.whopays.org.

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Gore Defends Sale of TV Network to Al-Jazeera

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Al Gore, who takes aim in his new book at the corporate media for “suffocating the free flow of ideas,” on Tuesday defended the sale of his television channel to Al-Jazeera.
The Qatar government-owned news network earlier this month struck a deal to buy Current TV, the cable news network co-founded by the former vice president. The price tag was $500 million.
Gore told The Associated Press that he had no reservations about selling the channel to Al-Jazeera, which has won U.S. journalism prizes but has been criticized by some for an anti-American bias. The new owner plans to gradually transform Current into a network called Al-Jazeera America.
“They’re commercial-free, they’re hard-hitting,” he said in a phone interview. “They’re very respected and capable, and their climate coverage has been outstanding, in-depth, extensive, far more so than any network currently on the air in the U.S.”

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